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A question came in from a potential client last night, and after writing a long answer, I thought it was probably a good idea to blog it and place the answer on my site!

The question was for a potential European event, and really had to do with whether I could work with an a European / international audience, be respectful in my timing, work with the translation team, work with simultaneous transition, and provide enough regional or localized content.

The answer is yes, yes, yes and yes….!

On stage in Sao Paolo for the Worldskills global conference. My audience featured individuals from 85 countries.

My mother tongue is English, and sadly, while I don’t speak any other languages (despite some 10 years of French lessons in elementary and high school!), I regularly speak on an international basis. This involves working with translators. focusing on international content, and working to keep my pace slow enough for the audience to be respectful of their needs.

Here’s the critical background on the international work that I do:

  • global audiences. I do a LOT of international work; I’ve presented in Sao Paolo, Budapest, Munich, Athens, Stuttgart, Prague, London, Paris, Brussels, Ghent, Stockholm, Zurich, Tokyo, Mexico …. and in all of these situations, have ensured that I have slowed my pace to be respectful of the audience.
  • simultaneous translation. Many of these events have featured onsite translation through headsets; the fact is, I regularly do sessions that feature simultaneous translation, and know the criticality of sharing the deck in advance with the translation team
  • advance translation planning. In some cases, I have done a Skype or Google Hangout walkthrough with the translation team of my slide deck, so that they are comfortable with the content and direction
  • a long track record with stage translation. I’m based in Canada and have been on stage for 25 years. Given that, my earlier years featured several hundred (!) events that have involved simultaneous translation (English/French) with headsets/translations. It’s just a thing in Canada!
  • sequential translation experience! My Budapest event actually featured sequential translation into Hungarian as opposed to simultaneous translation. Tthat was kind of fun, since my translator was actually on stage with me, followed me around, and even mimicked my stage actions!

There are many relevant examples of the international work I have done.

  • I just keynoted Nikon’s 100th anniversary dinner in Tokyo, with an audience from 37 countries. I provided my slide deck in advance to the translation team; I was simultaneously translated into Chinese and Japanese.
  • in January, I keynoted the first leadership meeting for Ulker; the parent company is Turkish, and the meeting represented the entities of the corporate group with the leadership team for Godiva Chocolates (Belgium), Ulker Biscuits (Turkey) and McVitie’s Biscuits (UK),  but with individuals from each of those 3 groups from around the world; a secondary booking had me with Godiva’s global supply chain team from 25 countries. Both massively global audiences.
  • Accenture had me speak at their annual energy conference in San Francisco; we had utility executives from China, Japan, Russia, Philippines, India, and 26 other countries. In that case, I was simultaneously translated into Russian, Chinese, Spanish and Japanese!
  • my keynote for the Worldskills conference in Sao Paolo featured simultaneous translation into Portuguese and Spanish.

In addition to speaking internationally, I often do Fortune 500 events that feature a leadership team from around the world. Some recent examples are global leadership meetings for Dow Chemical in Wilmington (2 events) with individuals from 57 countries; Disney (27 countries); and dozens, dozens more. So can I work with an international/European audience? Definitely yes. (Plus, when I mentioned for the Ulker group that I was Canadian, I got cheers. I think that the Canadian brand image is kind of fun right now!)

The other question that often comes up has to do with regional content, as in European specific examples/storylines. Can I customize my content so that it doesn’t include just American examples. (Well, did I mention I’m Canadian?)

It’s not the cover of the Rolling Stone, but I was once featured on the cover of CEO Magazine Hungary. The only speech where I had armed guards in the room with Uzis! But that’s another story for another time!

The answer is yes – I can easily and often do that do that. Many of the client bookings above have involved a necessity where my examples include global, not North American centric examples.I am regularly booked and work with content that is specific to the folks in the room. And so my Godiva Chocolate supply chain event included retail trends from Asia, India, the Middle East. My Dow Chemical talk took a look at global trends with examples for many of the different groups in the room.

The fact is, I do *extensive* research as a part of my talk, and regionalization is part of what I bring to the table if we need to do that with the content.

I work hard to alleviate the concerns of any clients who book me, and this includes translation and internationalization.

So – pick up the phone and call me. Let’s chat!

Disruption is real, it’s big, and it’s happening faster than you think. My job as a futurist has me doing an increasing number of CEO level events for Fortune 500 companies around the world, participating in leadership meetings which are focused on the massive transformations and disruption occurring in every single industry. Clients such as NASA, Disney, Godiva, Nikon, Mercedes Benz, Johnson & Johnson, and many more.

There is so much coming together all at once, and it accelerates everything. You might not understand the multiple trends that are coming together, so let me take you there.

Here’s what you need to think about today, as the pace of change picks up:

1. Multiple trends merge. There’s a lot going on! Individually, any trend is disruptive. Combine them together, and it’s transformative. 3D printing, exponentiating bandwidth, hyper-connectivity, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, robotics, neural networks, deep analytics, autonomous vehicles, Bitcoin and blockchain, self-learning systems. All of these trends and more are merging together,  leading to a massively new, connected, intelligent machine that will transform, change, challenge and disrupt every industry.

2 Every company becomes a software company. From healthcare to insurance, home appliances to automotive, manufacturing to packaging, retail to sports & fitness, energy to agriculture: every industry is seeing massive change as it becomes enabled, challenged and transformed by technology and connectivity. From precision agriculture to self-driving cars, smart clothing to connected microwaves, remote medical monitoring devices to active packaging  — every company in every industry is becoming a computer company, with software and technology at its heart and soul.

3. Moore’s law innovation speed defines every industry. It’s the rule that defines that the processing power of a computer chip constantly increases while the cost collapses at an exponential rate — and that speed of change is coming to drive the speed of innovation in every single industry as we all become tech companies. Companies are having to innovate and transform at a pace never seen before.
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4. Science exponentiates. The volume of medical knowledge is doubling every six years, and the number is going down. The cost for genomic sequencing is following an exponential downward curve. Battery technology innovation is moving forward at a furious pace with new methodologies, ideas and more coming to market. One single new chemical substance allowed Apple to miniaturize the hard drive for the original iPod, which led to the birth of a billion dollar industry. Science is the heart of the future, and the future is happening faster!

5. Edge thinking dominates. Crowdfunding networks allow for a world in which small upstarts don’t need to follow long-established ‘rules’ for changing the future. To move faster, they source ideas and inspiration through crowd-thinking, raise their funds through new forms of financing, and prototype products through 3D printing and other fast-to-market methodologies. Global R&D has moved from massive labs to globally dispersed idea factories.

6. Small beats big. Legacy is death: agility and speed are the new metrics for success. Big organizations are often encumbered by history and are suffering from the disease of  organizational sclerosis. New, aggressive upstarts can move faster, with the result that they can make decisions that provide for big disruption and challenge.

7. Ideas accelerate. With the Internet, we have essentially built a big, global idea machine, and fast innovators know how to mine its riches. In every field, the pace of innovation and discovery is speeding up to an unprecedented level. What use to seem like science fiction just a few years ago is todays’ reality.

8. Revenue reinvents – regularly. With fast ideas comes faster innovation : 60% of Apple’s revenue comes from products that didn’t exist 4 years ago. That’s a blistering pace of innovation. Expect that to become the norm in most industries as the future accelerates, product lifecycles collapse, and disruption disrupts.

9. Attention spans collapse. All of this fast change is difficult to comprehend, and so we have become scattershot! We now scan some 12 feet of shelf space per second – a goldfish has a longer attention span than a human. We need to have constant, relentless innovation in terms of marketing, branding and consumer outreach, not to mention what we need to do to engage our workforce!

10. New interaction dominates. Mobile is everything; we live on our devices. It influences everything we do, all that we decide, and much of how we interact with each other. The next phase will involve smart, connected packaging talking to our devices, and a new era of hyper-connectivity that will make todays’ early attempts at mobile marketing seem like child’s play.

11. Business models realign. The Internet of Things (#IoT) doesn’t just result in cool new products – it redefines entire revenue models. The era of predictive diagnostics allows for a future in which appliance or automotive manufacturers can now design products that will tell you when they are about to break down. This changes the essence of the product from a physical device that is sold to the sale of a service with uptime guarantee revenue models.

12. Distributed technologies redefine. When everything connects, power disperses. Micro-grids will change the utility industry as backyard wind, solar and other renewables result in little, local neighbourhood micro-grids. Cars that talk to each other and to sensors in the highway result in a new concept of transportation. Everywhere you look, distributed connected technologies are redefining concepts and turning industries upside down.

13. Money disappears. Sometimes distributed technology have a bigger impact than you think – as is the case with blockchain, which essentially redefines money. Central banks are out, and distributed ledgers are in. Ethereum goes one step further than Bitcoin, by embedding the historical contract concept of an offer and acceptance into the very essence of money. It’s intelligent money, and we still don’t know how quickly this will change everything.

14. Flexibility emerges. Given all this change, companies are focused on agility in order to get ahead. At a manufacturing plant in Graz, Austria, Magna has built the ultimate in flexible assembly lines, with the ability to build different cars from different companies on one assembly line. Elsewhere, companies are busy moving the software concept of agile development into the boardroom, adopting it as a key leadership trait. The ability to change fast is now the oxygen that fuels success.

15. Gamers Game. 25,000 people showed up to watch 4 gamers play a video game tournament in the Los Angeles Staples Centre – and 43 million tuned in worldwide via Twitch, the hottest new social platform on the planet. They’re coming into the workplace, and live in a world that involves a constant need to ‘level-up.’ Nothing will ever be the same as new forms of motivation and reward come to drive everything – and in this world, Xbox-type rooms are the new office!

16. Virtualization arrives. AR and VR are here, and the era of virtual welding is not too far off – and any other skill can be undertaken anywhere, at any time. An example is the forthcoming disruption of trucking, which will happen when a driver in India can navigate a truck through the streets of New York through a virtual headset! Outsourcing of skills is one thing – outsourcing of physical work is a whole new level altogether!

17. Infrastructure risk exponentiates. One word – Equifax. We are busy building a big, elaborate machine in the form of massive connectivity and accelerated information, but don’t quite know how to secure it. The TV show South Park had a character do a shoutout to in-home Amazon Echo and Google Home devices — and exposed a new security risk that no one ever thought about. Expect things to get better much worse before it gets better!

18. Insight influences. Big data and analytics might be overused buzzwords, but not to everyone. We live in a new world of Amazonian insight, where those who have the tools and knowledge to understand what is is really going on are the ones to get ahead. Depth of insight drives disruption – actuaries are moving from a world of looking back to one fo looking forward based on real time medical device connectivity. Car insurance is no longer based on past driving performance, but real time behaviour based on GPS. Even the world of health care is moving from a a world in which we fix you after you are sick – to knowing what you will be sick with based upon your genetic profile, and acting accordingly.

19. Expectations accelerate. If your Web site sucks, so do you. In our new world, people want the simplicity of a Google query via a touch screen device. Gone are the days of complex online forms — in are applications that are instantly aware of who you are and what you want. The bar of expectations is increasing at a furious pace, and if you can’t keep up, you can’t compete!

20. Industries virtualize. No one company can do everything that needs to be done in an era of fast change. In retail, all kinds of new partners are emerging to support last mile shipping, drop shipping capability, drone delivery and more. In finance, there are more types fo Fintech startups than there are world currencies, helping banks to navigate the complex new world of cryptocurrencies and more.

21. Knowledge accelerates. Skills access is the new gold. Did you notice Ford paid $1 billion to get access to some experts in self-driving car technology? Enough said. Those who can access the skills in trend #1 above win. We’re in a global war for niche talent, and that pretty much defines a critical strategy for the future. If it is all about skills, then success involves a strategy in which grabbing them fast is the only path forward.

22. Experience is the new capital. Innovation is the new oxygen. There’s no time to learn, to study, to plan. It’s time to figure out what you don’t know, and do the things that are necessary to begin to know about it. Experiential capital is the new capital for the 21st century.

23. Generations transform. 1 out of 2 people on the planet are under the age of 25. They’re globally wired, entrepreneurial, collaborative, change oriented — and they are now now driving rapid business model change, and industry transformation, as they move into executive positions

24. Big, bold thinking predominates. There are people who grab all of these trends and do “big things.” We are seeing the emergence of an entire world of big dreamers and doers, individuals who dare to challenge the orthodox, and abandon routines. The concept of the ‘moonshot’ is no longer restricted to those with deep pockets — but is oxygen for those with big ideas.

25. Action is the best reaction. Put it all together, and what odes it mean? If you don’t disrupt, you will be disrupted. It’s your ability to quickly act, react and do that will allow for future success. There’s not a lot of time for debate, studying; inertia is abhorred. Simply DO. That should be you.

Remember that song by the Who? “I hope I die before I get old!”

You better change before you can’t.

You might be obsolete before you know it.

Quit talking about disruption.

Do something about it.

Watch this short, 1 minute video on the 3 types of events that I provide for my clients — keynotes, leadership meetings and client events! Its part of a series that I recently filmed in San Francisco.

 

Learn more on this page, and feel free to contact me for more information on how I can help you with your next event or strategic meeting!

Oh, wow, is it autumn already? The air already seems like it!

With that, I return to a full schedule with a full number of fascinating events that will take me to Tokyo, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Las Vegas, New York, Richmond, Virginia, Lincoln (Nebraska), Oklahoma City Vancouver, Philadelphia, Chicago and more!

One event is in the National Cowboy Museum, and another in a historical Japanese garden. In no particular order, here’s a little bit of what’s to come in the months to come!

To start, Vancouver for the 2017 Edge Summit : a keynote for 450 CEOs on the impact of disruption.

Washington, for a talk on the future of accounting, financial advisory and consulting!

Chicago, for a talk on what comes next with the 1-800 industry, and the future impact of increasingly empowered consumers:

Philadelphia, for the impact of fast paced change on managing complex environments for a leading company in this software space:

Las Vegas, for the future of retail!

And again in Las Vegas – the future of economic development!

Richmond, Virginia for the future of manufacturing:

Oklahoma City, for the future of the economy. This one is really cool – it’s in the national cowboy museum!

And the highlight? Tokyo, to headline Nikon’s 100 anniversary!

That’s but a sample – I’m still getting inquiries and bookings!

At this point in my career, 70% of my keynotes are for leadership meetings, many involving Fortune 1000 organizations. I’m often brought in my a CEO or other senior executive to inspire top leadership to think about the trends that will impact them, and that will provide both opportunity and challenge going forward.

In these events, I often have the chance to listen to the message of the CEO to his or her team. It’s often a chance to understand what organizations are worried about today.

Recently, I spent time with a global Fortune 500. And the senior executive on stage ahead of me made this comment:

We need to become an organization that our customers like to do business with.

That’s a big challenge for legacy organizations, many of whom are my clients: global banks, insurance companies, retailers, organizations with warranty claims systems….

After all, the customer today is used to a world that involves a simple screen like this:

or this….

But when they visit your Web site, they get this!

Today’s customer has a higher bar of expectations: they expect the same level of service from you that they get at Amazon.com. They want:

  • extreme personalization!
  • extreme simplification!
  • a complete interaction history in an instant
  • pro-active notification when changes in their relationship with you occurs
  • instant online support with ticket references for followup
  • and all of this needs to be supported on mobile – NOW!

Innovating with customer service is one of the most important things you can do, and yet one of the most challenging. It involves complex legacy systems, integration with back end databases that run on COBOL! and very difficult development issues.

That’s not to say it can’t be done — and indeed, in this world of increasing expectations, it must be done!

So … I regularly get approached to speak at a lot of corporate leadership meetings …. and have done so for organizations like Johnson & Johnson, The GAP, Dupont, BASF, Siemens, Lockheed Martin. I frame for them the issue that the future is arriving faster than they think, and offer concise guidance on key trends that they need to align themselves to…..

To help emphasize the issue of the era of acceleration I’ve been using the story of the Jetson’s over the last 5 years while on stage. Remember it? It’s that cartoon show from 1962, purporting to show what the world will look like in 2062. Remember George Jetson? Remember the fact that there were autonomous vehicles, robot assistants, drones, and Skype and FaceTime seemed to be everywhere?

Now consider this! About a month ago, I was approached by Arconic to headline a leadership meeting for them in Phoenix; this is a newly spun-off entity from Alcoa that is focused on advanced technologies. I’ll be the opening kickoff – outlining and reaffirming the trends that will provide massive opportunity in the future.

Great minds think alike! They think the world of the Jetson’s is going to arrive here soon too — and are planning to play a major role in helping to make it happen. So much so, that they engaged Hollywood filmmaker Justin Lin of Star Trek Beyond fame, to do  a live-action re-imagination of the world of “The Jetsons!

 

Give it a watch!

Check their tagline: “Arconic: A Company Where the Future Takes Shape.” And my talk for them? I’m thinking this: “A keynote with the motivation that can help to make it happen!”

Do you need to accelerate your team into the future? Do it now, and read my keynote topic, The Jetson’s Have Arrived Fifty Years Early: What Are You Going to Do About It?

This is all just too much fun — just yesterday, while in Washington, I had some time to kill before a meeting, so I visited the Smithsonian Institution. What did I find, but a Jetsons lunchbox!

jetsonslunchbox

I so want this item….

Learn more about the making of the video

Here I am on stage in front of 2,000 in Chicago on the Jetsons!

I spend a lot of time in conversation with CEO’s, leading researchers, scientists and others as I prepare for my keynotes and leadership meetings. I undertake a lot of detailed research, often reading sets of hundreds of articles on a very specific subject as I prepare for a talk. My mind is a sponge, absorbing and ingestion insight and information at a furious pace.

But I’ve also learned that you can often learn from the most unexpected sources. Such as a grade 5 teacher, that by virtue of serendipity, becomes a member of your home golf course, and ends up becoming a regular buddy on the links.

grade5education

“Instead of individual subjects, students will study events and phenomena in an interdisciplinary format. For example, the Second World War will be examined from the perspective of history, geography, and math”

I don’t know how many times he has started a conversation with the phrase, “Let me tell you about Finland...” but that caught my attention today as the article above floated into my Facebook feed this morning.

It’s one of the trends that has been telling me about by virtue of his experience in the classroom. You can learn a lot about an industry — say, the future of education, where I do a lot of keynotes — but listening to folks in the trenches. Such as a grade 5 teacher. Here are some of his observations:

  • kids learn differently today than they did even just 5 years ago, and it will be even more different just 5 years from now. He caught my attention with that observation – what is happening in the classroom in terms of the ingestion of knowledge is happening faster than we think. It’s all based on interactivity, video, and tablets. Todays’s 10 year old has grown up in the technology tsunami, and simply acquires knowledge differently. Tomorrow’s grade 5 will be fundamentally different from the grade 5 kid of today. Change is relentless.
  • the ingestion of knowledge is all about video. Youtube and other sources are more relevant today than any sort of textbook. This echoes my own experience with my sons, now 21 and 23. I spoke about this during a keynote for the Institute for Credentialing Excellence in Phoenix a few years ago. Check the video in my post The Future of Education: Rethinking Opportunity in the Era of Knowledge Velocity. The son referred to in that video has a golf handicap of 1. He’s scratch. He changed his golf grip, not by working with a golf pro, but by watching YouTube videos.
  • it’s about short, sharp shocks of knowledge. The education system today talks about curriculum and pedagogy and phrases and methodology that were cool in the 1960’s. The methodology is barely relevant today, at all. Everyone knows that. No one really knows how to fix it, so those in the classroom figure out how to fix it on their own. Disruption is occurring, one grade 5 teacher at a time.
  • structure is irrelevant to them. Their minds are so busy, flitting from one concept to another, and the education system in North America hasn’t changed to deal with that reality. Finland has. Change needs to come, and it needs to come fast!
  • they are more world aware than we think. We might often think that the mind of a 10 year old isn’t very connected. This generation is global, aware, in a way that no other generation in the history of mankind has ever been. He indicated that one of his most painful days as a teacher was yesterday as some of the kids asked and talked about the rise of Donald Trump — with all of his moral failings on public display. How do you deal with that? We’re in uncharted territory here…
  • even their parents are different and expect so much more. The parents of todays 10 year old is the world’s first post MSDOS generation. When they began using computers, Mac’s and Windows were already the interface of choice. The Internet was a part of their lives for as long as they’ve had busy, inquiring minds. They are technology-immersed too, and carry none of the technology hangups of their baby-boomer predecessors too. They too expect change, technology, and interactivity to drive the education system. They are not getting it at an official level.

But wait, there’s more! Lots to learn! Lots more golf yet to come!

We all know that the education system is massively stuck in an innovation rut, unable to deal with the reality of change that swirls around it. And so many questions are raised by the reality on the ground. Such as: what the heck is the world of human resources going to do as today’s 10 year old becomes a part of the workforce in just 10 years?

What can you learn from this? Certainly this: seek to learn from unconventional sources. Just as today’s grade 5 student learns in different ways that are not part of the education system.

I certainly intend to, and as golfing season draws to a close, think I need to commit to going into his classroom and doing another presentation for his class, as I did last year. Not to present my views — but really, to try to listen to theirs!

Here’s a video I filmed with his kids in his class last year. Invigorating stuff! Here’s a promo clip I filmed for my opening keynote for EdNet 2016 in Dallas a few months ago. When we think about the future of education, we need to think about the careers that the kids of today will be working in. Many of those careers don’t exist. Here’s what the kids think about that!

The kids understand the future! Does the education industry?

I’ve had seven weeks on the road, with some great events.

At one event, a recent client told me one of the key reasons they selected me over other experts that focus on future trends and innovation was simple. And they put it at the top of their list of “pros” in their evaluation of various speaker alternatives.

Because you answered the phone.

skype

It’s true. I answer the phone! Give it a try – call me at 214.473.4850, 905.855.2950 or 347.3.Future. If I’m not there, I’ll call you back, and we can talk about how I can help you with your upcoming event, conference or leadership event.

They explained further: “We didn’t have to go through layers and layers of agents and bureaus in order to get to you, to see if you might be the right guy for our leadership meeting.”

And it’s true. I answer the phone, if I’m here! I don’t have handlers in the way, unless you reach my wife and business partner Christa, if she is in the office. (We’ve been working in the home office for 25 years together. Still!) I don’t hide from my clients, potential or existing!

I have a small operation — it’s Christa and I. It’s been that way for 25 years. From this small home office, I’ve provided my insight and services to a global audience of clients that includes Disney, NASA, Johnson & Johnson, Chrysler, BASF and hundreds more. Audiences of more than 2,000,000 people at keynotes, corporate leadership meetings and customer events. Most of them driven through personal contact, in which people have come to take the time to understand how I work, and the fact that I deliver insight that is unique, customized and relevant.

And to do that, I answer the phone.

Yes, I do have agents and bureaus too. Some of the most prestigious in the business, some 40 of them in all around the world in Washington, Singapore, Sydney, Stockholm, London, Toronto. All these organizations book me at the same time that they are booking Presidents, Prime Ministers, Olympians and Hollywood royalty. But even when they book me, I encourage them to get the end client in touch with me. On the phone.

Look, I actually encourage potential clients to call me. I’m known for the customized work and research that I do. With this particular client that made the comment above, I had about 6 conference calls over the last six months, leading up to the event, which helped me understand their issues and concerns, and which helped me to build a keynote the really fit their needs.

Try it! Call me. If I’m in the office, I’ll pick up the phone. And if not, I’ll get back to you as soon as I can!

 

We certainly live in interesting times!

Here’s what I’ve noticed in this new era of hyper-turmoil and uncertainty — many organizations are turning off their innovation engines, waiting to see what happens next in a world in which volatility is the new normal.

bigbolddecisions

The New Yorker had a great article in 2009 after the financial meltdown, “Hanging tough,” that outlined  how some companies choose to ensure that they stay innovative in recessionary times – while others did not. In the context of the uncertainty of today, it’s worth a read. For example, they contrast two cereal companies: one that chose to focus on innovation despite uncertainty, while another did not.

“You’d think that everyone would want to emulate Kellogg’s success, but, when hard times hit, most companies end up behaving more like Post. They hunker down, cut spending, and wait for good times to return. They make fewer acquisitions, even though prices are cheaper. They cut advertising budgets. And often they invest less in research and development. They do all this to preserve what they have.”

My recent discussions with Fortune 1000 CEOs and senior executives in both UK and the US certainly indicate that this is happening again. Post-Brexit, uncertainty and aggressive indecision is roiling the C-suite in the UK — deferring decisions has become the norm. In the US, the never-ending election has placed a pause on most big decisions — inaction has settled in like a wet-sponge!

Big question – in this context, is the UK done? Can America innovate again, or is this a cultural and leadership ‘new normal?’ Here’s what I know – the winners and losers of the future are being determined right now!

Yet history has taught us, over and over again, that those who are aggressive with innovation, and who align themselves to future trends in times of uncertainty, are those who win in the long run. For years, I’ve talked on stage and in my leadership meetings of the key observation by GE’s Chief Innovation Consultant. Simple, powerful guidance: breakthrough performers manage to accomplish great things because of a decision to focus on innovation right in the middle of an economic challenge or an era of uncertainty– rather than waiting till they came into a recovery phase.

The research found that during the oil shock of 70’s, 80’s and 90’s recession, and the 2000 dot com bust, of those companies surveyed, 70% of companies barely survived, 30% died, but 10% became breakthrough performers. Noted the GE head of innovation: it was explicitly “…because of choices they made in the recession.”

So it really comes down to this: when do you innovate? Are you going to wait until you are comfortable that an era of uncertainty is over? Bad decision — because economic and political volatility is the new normal!

Everything we have learned has taught us that the winners were those who decided that it was an important thing to keep moving ahead despite massive amounts of uncertainty. Get out of your future-funk! Try this clip from a keynote I undertook on stage after the meltdown of 2008-2009. “Innovators get out in front of the recession“.

Consider this: the New Yorker article is pretty blunt with it’s findings on innovation-losers:

  • “numerous studies have shown that companies that keep spending on acquisition, advertising, and R. & D. during recessions do significantly better than those which make big cuts”
  • “a McKinsey study of the 1990-91 recession found that companies that remained market leaders or became serious challengers during the downturn had increased their acquisition, R. & D., and ad budgets, while companies at the bottom of the pile had reduced them”
  • “Uncertainty is always a part of business, but in a recession it dominates everything else: no one’s sure how long the downturn will last, how shoppers will react, whether we’ll go back to the way things were before or see permanent changes in consumer behavior. So it’s natural to focus on what you can control: minimizing losses and improving short-term results.”

Innovation winners?

  • “Kraft introduced Miracle Whip in 1933 and saw it become America’s best-selling dressing in six months; Texas Instruments brought out the transistor radio in the 1954 recession; Apple launched the iPod in 2001.”

Read the article. It’s powerful stuff!

Given that, what do you do? Change your culture and set out to achieve breakthrough results despite uncertainty!


Here is some more innovation-soup for your innovation-soul!

Do you?

It can be difficult to try to be innovative in many organizations. Many people with an innovation-oriented mindset often find their enthusiasm destroyed when they approach senior management with an initiative. And when their effort is turned back, it can extremely frustrating!

hirepeopleyoudontlike

What happens is that a series of excuses are made as to why we don’t need to focus on the future right now:

  • we don’t understand it, so we don’t think we need to do it!
  • maybe we shouldn’t confront the tough issues right now
  • we are too busy fighting fires – there’s no time for anything else!
  • we don’t have the skill sets to deal with this!
  • we haven’t thought about this in our strategic planning process
  • we don’t have time to think about it…
  • we don’t have a budget f
  • what we’ve been doing all along is perfectly ok, isn’t it?
  • there’s so much going on, and we don’t know where it might fit in terms of priorities!
  • and the worst? it’s too far ahead of its time!

Of course, it’s easy to take this wall of negativity and step back from the project and curb your enthusiasm — and give up! Here’s a clip from my keynote in Zurich in which I talk about the challenges you might face.

But real innovators don’t give up! They work to address the organizational sclerosis that might be in place. What you should do  is confront these excuses head on: there are a variety of different reactions depending on the different excuses that are used:

  • if they don’t understand it, educate them! This might involve building a better business case for the initiative; bringing them up to date on the key business drviers and trends that require some bold steps and dramatic change.
  • help them that those who tackle the tough issues usually win. This is a good time to put into perspective the concept of accelerating change. You need to make sure that the leadership team understands that everything around us today is changing faster than ever before, and will continue to do so: business models, methods of customer interaction, new forms of competition. Business today is all about continually confronting a flood of tough issues; we should be bulking up our capabilities to deal with a world of incessant change.
  • if the organization is always in fire-fighting mode, change the agenda. Maybe they won’t be fighting as as many fires over the long term if they have a clear view of the future, and have a strategy that aligns to that future. So rather than asking, “whoah, where’d that come from,” they’re asking “ok, what comes next, and what do we need to do about it?
  • skill sets don’t give us the capability: That’s a weak excuse: if there are shortfalls in certain key skills to deal with current business realities, deal with it and fix it fast.
  • if it’s not part of the strategic planning process, make it part of it. Every organizations has multiple processes in which issues and activities rise to the top because they’ve been idenitified as fitting within the overall strategic plan. If yours isn’t part of the plan, work to get it there.
  • get people thinking about what comes next: Does the organization have a regular series of forward looking leadership meetings? Does it take the time to assess the trends which might impact it on a 1, 2, 5 and 10 year basis? Is it busy looking at we have really spent a lot of time thinking about what comes next
  • we don’t have a budget for that! Following the process of getting the initiative into the strategic plan will help to lead to the next step: getting the project properly approved and funded within the overall budget process for the organization.
  • make it clear that it isn’t ok to keep doing the same thing that has been done in the past. You’ve got to clearly articulate the new threats the organizations faces and the opportunities that it can pursue as a result of ongoing change.
  • there’s so much going on, and we don’t know where it might fit in terms of priorities! This is a tricky one, because in this type of situation, its pretty well certain that there is some weak management in place who doesn’t know how to set a clear action plan that the team must follow. Best bet is to address the other issues on the list, and work to put in place a clear business and strategic plan for your initiative, with sound business reasoning as to why it needs to be done.
  • it’s too far ahead of its time! Frame the future to the organization this way: do we want to always be fast followers, or do we truly want to be market leaders?

In Zurich,I noted on stage that “we develop corporate cultures that stifle — that kill our ability to try to do anything new…..” That’s what you’ve got to work to avoid — it’s not easy to do — but absolutely necessary!

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